Column: March can seem like November for freshmen
STANFORD 60, KANSAS 57
St. Louis ? Elite freshmen dominate the November news in college basketball. Superlatives fly. So do the freshmen. Sometimes they trip and fall, too. Then they get better as league play toughens them.
And then the NCAA tournament arrives. So often, one-and-done pressure of an elimination tournament can reset the clock for teenagers experiencing something new. In some ways, it’s November again.
Kansas University freshman Andrew Wiggins never looked more like a teenager than he did Sunday in a 60-57 loss to underdog Stanford in Scottrade Center.
He had as many turnovers (four) as points, made 1 of 6 shots and hung onto just four rebounds.
If that’s how anybody chooses to remember him, that’s their problem. The guy was one of the most productive freshmen in KU history, led his team in scoring and was its best perimeter defender.
It happened a year ago for Ben McLemore in his second NCAA tournament game, when he went 0 for 9 from the field and scored two points. But every other starter on that team was a senior, so Kansas didn’t need him to defeat North Carolina.
These Jayhawks, fourth-least experienced team in the nation, couldn’t afford an off day from the nation’s No. 1-ranked high school player from the Class of 2013, per Rivals.com, especially when playing without injured fellow basketball prodigy Joel Embiid.
Wiggins scored 19 points in KU’s tourney-opening victory against Eastern Kentucky, so the pressure didn’t show until Sunday. Could the two early traveling calls have stripped him of his aggressiveness? We’ll never know.
Classmate Wayne Selden, ranked No. 12 by Rivals, scored four points and made 1 of 10 shots in 47 minutes in the two tournament games.
Not surprisingly, the best performer in St. Louis for the Jayhawks (25-10) was the lone senior on the roster, center Tarik Black.
“Besides Tarik, I don’t think we did a good job finishing at the rim today,” said sophomore Jamari Traylor, who had 17 points and 14 rebounds in the opener, but made just 1 of 8 shots Sunday.
Black, who so wanted to lead his team to Memphis, his hometown and the place where he spent the first three seasons of his college basketball career, didn’t get enough help to get there. He made 6 of 8 field goals. The non-seniors shot 26 percent from the field.
Only Conner Frankamp defied his birth certificate during the tournament, setting career scoring highs with 10 and 12 points. He and fellow freshman Frank Mason will make it tough for Naadir Tharpe to keep his starting spot next season.
Frankamp cured the turnover flu in the first game and against Stanford hit two huge threes in the final few minutes of the first half, two more in the game’s final 25 seconds. He was the only one who joined Black in double figures.
Four Stanford players reached double figures, three juniors and a senior.
“It is good to have experience,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Older players, guys who have been in these moments before, guys who know what to expect. I mean they have a lot of younger players … and they are all very talented. And they’ve had a great year. And they were Big 12 champions. So they’re not a team that is not battled-tested, to have gone through the rigors of a great conference and coming out champions.”
That sort of pressure doesn’t always cook to the same degree as the NCAA tourney heat.
There are exceptions to every rule. Freshman-heavy Kentucky edged more experienced Wichita State in a vastly entertaining battle that felt like a toss-up from the moment the ref tossed it up. Technically, according to seeding, it was an upset, but Kentucky is loaded.
Kenpom.com ranks all 351 schools’ experience. Stanford, 34th, defeated higher seeds New Mexico and Kansas. Dayton, 42nd, beat Ohio State (53) and Syracuse (64). Stephen F. Austin (100) knocked off VCU (187). Harvard (60) bounced Cincinnati (112). Connecticut (67) drilled Villanova (236). North Dakota State (26) upset Oklahoma (305). Mercer (5) eliminated Duke (279).
Now, more than ever, the most talented teams tend to be the youngest, which makes the difference between the top and bottom so slight when the pressure cooks the hottest that it might time to assume the word “mild” precedes the word “upset” during March Madness.